Jonhenry Wilson previews the first IPL clash of 2017 which features the Sunrisers Hyderabad and the Royal Challengers Bangalore.The defending champions clash with last year's losing finalists, as the 10th edition of the planet's leading Twenty20 league gets going this week.
The Hyderabad outfit have a potentially fragile middle-order to negate, while the Bangalore unit are hampered by a string of injury concerns.
SRH v RCB | Wednesday, 5 April 2017 | Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium | 16:30
To Win Match
Sunrisers 23/20 | Tie 35/1 | Royal Challengers 72/100
A remarkable consistency in the selection of their seam bowlers took the Sunrisers all the way in 2016 and, this year, they'll likely spring for the same. The blossoming Bhuvneshwar Kumar and veteran Ashish Nehra will be key to this, while the availability of Bangladesh's Mustafizur Rahman is bound to be cut short by international duty at some stage.
Their penchant for picking non-mainstay Australians is intriguing, too. Captain David Warner deserves the bulk of the limelight, but countrymen Ben Laughlin, Ben Cutting and Moises Henriques - who are there and thereabout, but not certainties in the international ranks - offer Hyderabad welcome individual and collective dynamics.
Hyderabad's domestic talent is superb, too. Trio Deepak Hooda, Naman Ojha and Vijay Shankar should feature in any IPL XI worth its investment, but demand respect others elsewhere don't. The three epitomise the IPL's ability to showcase otherwise unknown talent on a world stage. Ojha is a leading example, while Shankar soon will be.
An intriguing subplot to their primary ambition of a successful title defence is the arrival of Afghanistan's Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan. Associate nations are hardly ever represented at the IPL, with Nabi's and Khan's presence another first for the burgeoning cricket country. If a man of New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson's calibre is going to find it tough to crack the nod for the preferred XI, though, Nabi's ability to do the same seems near impossible.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
With a likely first-choice team lined with the batting talent of West Indian Chris Gayle, South African AB de Villiers and Australian Shane Watson, the Royal Challengers - as usual - will need their bowling ranks to complement this cosmopolitan combination. Limited to four players from abroad per match day XI, perhaps that successful balance will be found in the recruitment of Englishman Tymal Mills.
The permanent availability of de Villiers (who won't play the first match) and the homegrown Virat Kohli remains doubtful, due to respective back and shoulder injuries, but the bench strength - particularly Aussie Travis Head and India's Sachin Baby - is formidable. If not Mills, then the lanky Billy Stanlake or New Zealand speedster Adam Milne. The spin department is flush with the wile and guile of Windies' star Samuel Badree and the Proteas' Tabraiz Shamsi.
The Royal Challenger's inability to capitalise on the promising ground work laid by Gayle and Kohli cost them dearly in last season's final. This year, particularly in this week's curtain raiser, the precedent can't be deferred. Their home versus away record doesn't make for poor reading, unlike some other franchises While they'd rather be playing this fixture at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium isn't a scary alternative.
Wednesday's venue failed to produce a score of more than 150 in its last four innings during the 2016 IPL. Another modest total from the team batting first, then, seems likely. The toss will be crucial, as Uppal's track record smiles upon captains who choose to bowl first. Relatively small boundaries, indeed, seem to trump scoreboard pressure here.
Verdict: Royal Challengers Bangalore 72/100
Brimming with international and homegrown batting talent and still chasing a maiden IPL title, the visitors will shrug off injury concerns to start their campaign in triumph.
Value bet: To bat first, Sunrisers Hyderabad 17/20
Both teams will experiment with personnel combinations through the opening throes of the tournament - and should do the same with tactics. Batting first, in conditions that suggest the alternative, could be the toss-winning captain's choice early doors.